In 2018–2019, the salvage excavations were carried out in two areas, located c. 1 km apart. Area U12 (2.24 dunams) was opened on the western edge of the site’s western hill, where Late Chalcolithic burial caves and Early Bronze Age I, Late Roman and Early Islamic burials were found; the burials from the two later periods will be published after the excavation is completed. Area R (R13, R16, R17; 4.34 dunams) on the eastern edge of the quarry on the eastern hill, contained late Second Temple-period miqva’ot (ritual baths), Early Roman hiding complexes and Byzantine winepresses. In view of the development plans of the quarry, the western hill was almost entirely excavated.
Area U12 (Fig. 2)
The area on the hill’s western slope was completely covered with a layer of clay soil and grayish brown earth. The natural bedrock (0.3–1.5 m below the surface) in the upper part of the area was composed of nari or soft chalk. Eight trial trenches (length 10–15 m, max. depth 5 m) were dug in the lower part of the area, where the ground slopes steeply down to a streambed. In all of Area U12 there was a natural clayey soil with abundant river pebbles, indicating that an ancient river, possibly a tributary of Nahal Ayyalon, once flowed through it. The excavation mostly uncovered burials, indicating that this area was probably just outside the settlement located on the western hill.
Chalcolithic Burial Caves
Over several excavation seasons, the western hill yielded remains of a Late Chalcolithic settlement that comprised two separate areas, a western and an eastern area. The western area contained a cemetery, whereas the eastern area contained dwelling caves and installations for processing and storing agricultural produce. Two burial caves excavated in 2018–2019 (F959, F974) join 13 previously excavated Chalcolithic burial installations—nine burial caves, two rock-hewn or built burial chambers, one burial niche, and one rock-hewn installation containing nine burial cells (Avrutis 2012; 2019a). The site exhibited a wide variety of funerary customs and burial practices, most of which involved secondary burial in pottery vessels such as ossuaries, boxes, funerary jars, V-shaped bowls, kraters and holemouth jars, although a few primary burials were also found. The pottery and stoneware dated the finds to the Chalcolithic period, and the ceramic assemblage, including V-shaped bowls, bell-shaped bowls, cornets and churns, ascribed the burials to the Be’er Sheva‘ Ghassulian culture.
The petrographic analysis showed that almost all the pottery was made of the Taqiye marl formation, found in the immediate vicinity of the site, the nearest outcrop being in the Tel Gezer area, c. 7 km south of the site. The few sampled vessels made of a more distant clay source include a red-slipped holemouth jar from the coastal plain, and a tiny bowl from the Jerusalem Hills. The results of the petrographic analysis resemble those from other Chalcolithic sites.
Burial Cave F959 (Fig. 3). A natural rounded karstic cavity was enlarged to form a burial cave. The cave roof was carefully removed during the excavation due to safety considerations. Three steps hewn in the northwestern side led into the cave whose floor was paved with fieldstones, and a hewn pillar (diam. c. 0.7 m) supported the ceiling in the southern part of the cave (Fig. 4). Most of the burials were interred on the eastern side of the cave (L18U12-130), the western side containing only a scattering of human bones (L18U12-132). A pile of medium-sized fieldstones near the northern wall of the cave (L18U12-114 [not in plan]; height 1.0–1.2 m) protruded southwards into the cave. A holemouth jar beneath the western side of the pile contained the bones of two adult individuals (Fig. 5). The bedrock beneath the fieldstone floor was carefully hewn and leveled (Fig. 6).
The cave yielded secondary burials of human bones in large vessels, such as holemouth jars, V-shaped bowls and kraters. A crushed funerary jar with no human remains was also found. All the funerary vessels were smashed, and the human bones were scattered beside them. Other vessels accompanying the burials—probably grave offerings—consisted mostly of small V-shaped bowls and cornets. Based on the crania remains, at least 18 individuals were identified: 6 infants and children aged 0–10, a young female aged 16–22, and 11 adults over the age of 30. The cave yielded many teeth of individuals aged 4–50 and a concentration of long adult bones, but their poorly preserved condition precluded any identification of their age or gender.
Cave F974 (Fig. 7). The roof and western wall of the cave were not preserved as it had been breached by mechanical equipment on a slope between the upper and the lower parts of the excavation area. An earthen fill covering the bedrock floor
(L19U12-006) contained potsherds and crushed bones. Like Burial Cave F959 and three previously uncovered contemporary burial caves (Avrutis 2019a:55–59), the cave was paved with medium-sized fieldstones (L19U12-003; Fig. 8); some of the random stones may have supported the funerary vessels containing secondary burials (Fig. 9). The burial chamber yielded 35 funerary vessels that had collapsed northwards like dominoes (L19U12-003; Fig. 10), although they probably originally stood upright side by side. Three vessels were holemouth jars and the others were funerary jars, some bearing plastic decoration. All the jars were complete, although shattered (Fig. 11), their poor preservation due to the type of soil and rock. Fifteen vessels each contained the remains of a single individual, and 14 contained two or more individuals; no human bones were found in the other six jars. At least 47 individuals were buried in the cave, of which 12 were children under the age of 15, five were young adults and 27 were adults aged 20–49; the age of three individuals was not determined. Ten females and four males were identified; the gender of the others was not identified due to the poor preservation of the bones. Predators’ tooth marks were identified on some of the bones sealed inside the funerary vessels; similar predator marks observed in contemporary burial caves at the site suggest that predators accessed the deceased before the secondary burial of their bones.
The funerary jars uncovered in the cave are characterized by a domed upper part and an opening in the vessel shoulder. Some jars have a protruding knob or handle at the top of the vessel. Most of the jars bear painted geometric motifs, whilst a few have plastic decoration (Fig. 12). Several interpretations of these decorations on funerary jars have been proposed, among them that they represent granaries, a female uterus or a butterfly pupa, symbolizing rebirth and metamorphosis (for further details, see Avrutis 2012:272).
The funerary jars in the cave were accompanied by many other vessels, probably grave offerings, that were placed between the burial vessels, in three large concentrations along the eastern side of the cave. Most of the vessels are very small, such as V-shaped bowls, holemouth jars and cornets (Fig. 13). Unlike other burial caves at the site, Cave F974 contained many chalices (Fig. 14:2, 3) with soot marks on the interior, suggesting that they were used to burn incense. The cave also yielded two platters (Fig. 14:1), which may have contained grave offerings in the secondary burial context; this practice is known to date only at Nesher-Ramla (Avrutis 2012: Pl. 3.12:11–13) and at Khirbet Kurkar South (Scheftelowitz, Fabian and Gilead 2013:124–129, Figs. 4–7).
Once the burial vessels were removed and the paving stones were dismantled, two potsherd concentrations were discovered (L19U12-045, L19U12-050), including an ossuary, burial jars, bowls, cornets and a basin. In contrast to the complete pottery vessels in the main burial layer, only fragments were preserved in this layer; these finds may belong to an early phase of burial in the cave.
Burial Caves F959 and F974 contained remains of infants and children, supplementing the data on the burial of children under the age of three in the Chalcolithic period. In this context, previously excavated Burial Cave F314 is particularly interesting, since the skeletons of eight infants were found piled up on its eastern side (Deutsch 2012:234). The finds challenge previous assertions regarding burial practices in the Chalcolithic period (Nagar and Eshed 2001; Nagar 2011).
The two caves did not yield any accompanying stone vessels, in contrast to four other burial caves at the site that contained limestone and basalt bowls. All the stone vessels in the Chalcolithic burial caves at the site were broken (Avrutis 2012:185–187, Table 5.1; 2019a:62). Vessels made of luxury materials or imported from some distance, may have had a high, possibly symbolic, value, and consequently their broken fragments were also placed in graves. The cemetery exhibited a combination of the most common forms of secondary burial in the southern Levant during the Chalcolithic period. The finds from the two burial caves make an important contribution to the study of Late Chalcolithic burial practices. Four important observations may be noted: both caves contained various burial methods; the funerary vessels—ossuaries, boxes, burial jars and large containers—were locally manufactured; the accompanying pottery comprised mainly bowls, cups, and small holemouth jars; fragments of grave goods made of valued materials, such as basalt and hematite, were also placed in the caves, probably due to their symbolic significance.
Early Bronze Age I Burials
A late EB I cemetery was uncovered at the site (Avrutis 2012; 2018). In 2019, four burial pits (L19U12-023, L19U12-051, L19U12-055, L19U12-092; Figs. 15–19) comprising part of this cemetery, were revealed in the lower part of Area U12. The bottom part of the pits was preserved, hewn into the soft rock (depth c. 0.3 m); the upper parts that were not extant had probably been dug into the overlying layer of clay. The burial pits were irregularly shaped: some were rectangular with rounded corners and some were rounded-elliptical. Each of the pits yielded a few fragments of skulls and long bones of an adult individual. Although it was not possible to determine the age and gender of the individuals, based on the long bones they were probably adults. The four burial pits each contained a copper dagger placed beside the skeletal remains (Fig. 20); the daggers dated the burials to EB I. No pottery or other finds were recovered.
The four daggers join 16 other weapons found to date in EB I burials at the site, 15 of which are daggers (unpublished), and one is a spearhead (Avrutis 2019:227–229, Fig. 9.1, Pl. 9.1). The daggers are the most characteristic Early Bronze Age type that first appeared in EB I and continued until EB IV, but not later. The only three daggers of this type found outside Israel all date to EB IV. These daggers apparently belong to the metallurgical tradition of the southern Levant. Notwithstanding the long chronological range of the daggers, the burials uncovered here are dated to the EB I, since the site yielded no later remains.
Cave burials are characteristic of the EB I in the southern Levant in general, and specifically at this site (Avrutis 2012:31, Table 2.2). However, burial pits have also been attributed to the EB I, for example, in Tel Aviv (Kanias 2011: Figs. 1–3; Barkan and Abu-Salah 2017: Fig. 4), some pits yielding daggers of the well-known Early Bronze Age types (Avissar 2006: Fig. 2, center; Barkan and Abu-Salah 2017: Fig. 6).
Area R (Fig. 21)
The area is characterized by alluvial clayey soil (depth 0.2–0.6 m), accumulated above the hard nari bedrock. The bedrock contained rock-hewn underground installations dating from the late Second Temple period, including miqva‘ot and hiding complexes. The rock ceilings of almost all the underground installations were removed during the excavation, since the nari was fissured and unstable. The remains on the ground surface consisted mainly of buildings and rock-hewn winepresses dating from the Byzantine period (the building remains excavated in previous seasons have not yet been published).
Ritual Baths (Miqva‘ot)
Miqveh F950 (Fig. 22). This was the largest ritual bath exposed in Area R. The rock ceiling had collapsed into the miqveh. The miqveh was filled with layers of alluvium and exhibited two clear architectural phases. In the early phase, the miqveh comprised an immersion basin (L18R17-054), and a flight of steps (L18R17-065), the lower steps hewn into the rock and the upper steps built of roughly worked fieldstones. In the later phase, the immersion basin was converted into an antechamber, and an arched opening was hewn in its southern wall (L18R17-076), leading into a larger immersion chamber (L18R17-121, L18R17-150; Fig. 23). Two flights of steps (L18R17-216, L18R17-217) hewn along the eastern and western walls of the immersion chamber descended to the immersion basin. The steps and the immersion basin were coated with several layers of gray hydraulic plaster.
Miqveh F953 (Fig. 24). The miqveh contained a small unroofed antechamber (L18R16-246) and a rectangular immersion chamber with rounded corners
(L18R16-241). A flight of steps cut in its northwestern corner led to the bottom of the antechamber. An arched passageway (L18R16-229), hewn from the antechamber’s southern wall led down to the immersion chamber. The rock ceiling had collapsed into the immersion chamber, along with parts of a later building (F964) constructed above the miqveh. Three rock-cut steps in the immersion chamber led down to the immersion pool; the top step was cut the width of the chamber and the two lower steps (width c. 1 m) were hewn along the chamber’s northeastern wall. The immersion chamber was coated with several layers of gray hydraulic plaster.
Miqveh F973 (Fig. 25). This was the smallest miqveh exposed at the site. Four rock-cut steps (L19R17-015) led down into the miqveh from the southeast. A niche (L19R17-021) was hewn at floor level in the western wall and the miqveh was entirely coated with gray hydraulic plaster. It seems that the niche was an attempt to enlarge the miqveh to the west, but the hewing was stopped to avoid cutting into a cistern (F956) located c. 1.5 m to the west. Since the miqveh remained small, the external access steps that were originally intended to be open, were now plastered with hydraulic plaster as part of the miqveh itself, and niches were cut into the top of the miqveh’s northern and southern walls above the steps, probably to support stone bases for a roof. If this understanding is correct, this is the first example at the site of a miqveh with a built ceiling.
Miqveh F976 (Fig. 26). The miqveh was hewn next to a cistern (F977; diam. c. 4 m, depth c. 4 m) and both installations may have been filled by the same rainwater channel or gutter. The miqveh included a partially preserved outdoor staircase (L19R16-028) and a round immersion chamber (L19R16-033; Fig. 27), both elements coated with gray hydraulic plaster.
The miqva‘ot discovered in the excavation were similar to dozens of others found at the site in the past (Melamed 2010a; 2018a). They probably belonged to private houses, and the different designs and modes of access may have the result of adaptation to the houses and areas in which they were hewn, and the needs of the owners. All the miqva‘ot at the site were damaged by rainwater. Water cisterns were found near some miqva‘ot, but no installations linking them to the cisterns were found. Based on the miqva‘ot previously excavated at the site, their construction can be dated at the latest to the first century BCE, and they were probably in use until the beginning of the second century CE. The miqva‘ot are characteristic of late Second Temple-period Jewish settlements in Judea, both west and east of the Jordan River (Reich 2013, see references therein). The prevalence of miqva‘ot in late Second Temple-period settlements attests to a strict adherence to the Jewish laws of purity.
Hiding complexes
Hiding Complex F939 (Fig. 28). A rounded entrance shaft (L18R16-250) led into a hiding complex, which contained six circular rooms arranged on two levels connected by passages and short tunnels. Remnants of a blockage composed of small fieldstones and gray bonding material found in the lower part of the western wall of one room (L18R16-257) was evidently the deliberate blockage of a breach made accidentally while hewing an adjacent water cistern (F951); consequently, the cistern is either contemporary with or later than the hiding complex.
Hiding Complex F946 (Fig. 29). A square entrance shaft (L18R17-022) with rounded corners led into the hiding complex, which comprised two different-sized circular chambers (L18R17-170, L18R17-172), one square chamber with rounded corners (L18R17-060) and one irregularly sized chamber (L18R17-154) whose floor was coated with gray plaster. A round depression (L18R17-169) was hewn in the center of the floor. Plaster traces in the passage between the entrance shaft and the chamber with the plastered floor suggest that the entire chamber was originally plastered.
Hiding Complex F949 (Fig. 30). The nari rock was fissured here and unstable and parts of the complex roof had collapsed in the past and other parts were carefully removed during the excavation; consequently, it was not possible to excavate the southern and eastern parts of the complex. The hiding complex consisted of seven rooms arranged on two levels interlinked by tunnels and passages. A rectangular entrance shaft (L18R17-023) leading down into the complex had small recesses hewn in its sides to facilitate ascent. A groove for a sealing stone (golal) to block the passage was hewn in the northern side of the northern tunnel (L18R17-145); the sealing stone was found in situ in the groove. The southern wall of the central chamber (L18R17-162) contained a blockage made of small fieldstones and gray bonding material. This appears to be a deliberate blockage of an accidental breach made while cutting an installation (F951) near the southern side of the complex. The installation was plastered, but since it was not completely excavated out of safety considerations, its function remains unclear; it evidently postdates the hiding complex.
Hiding Complex F960 (Fig. 31). A rounded shaft (L18R17-186) leading down from the surface into the hiding complex had recesses hewn in its sides to facilitate ascent. Another round entrance shaft cut into the northern part of the complex (L18R17-233) also had climbing holds cut in its walls. The very small complex contained two circular chambers (L18R17-199, L18R17-234) connected by short tunnels and passages to a central circular chamber (L18R17-198).
Hiding Complex F967 (Fig. 32). A rounded entry shaft (L19R16-001) descended from the surface into the hiding complex, widening at the bottom and opening onto an irregularly shaped cavity. From here, passages hewn to the north and south led to the various parts of the complex, which included five chambers of various sizes interlinked by tunnels and passages. The complex contained a particularly long tunnel (length 15 m) extending northeastwards and terminating in a dead end.
The hiding complexes yielded pottery, stone vessels, coins and small finds that have not yet been fully processed. The complexes join dozens of other hiding complexes found over the years, most of which have been published (Melamed 2010b; 2018b; 2020). It seems that most of the complexes were not made according to a specific plan but were hewn in response to different needs over a considerable period of time; this understanding is supported by the large number of unfinished tunnels and chambers.
The ceramic assemblages from previously excavated hiding complexes at the site include bowls, cooking pots, jars, jugs, juglets and oil lamps, some intact or complete. Most of the ceramic assemblages date from the mid-first century BCE to the first century CE, a few dating from the first third of the second century CE (Vincenz 2010; 2018; 2020). The coin dates are compatible with the pottery. Most of the coins from the hiding complexes date from the late Hellenistic period and from the Hasmonean to the Herodian era. The earliest coins retrieved are Ptolemaic and the latest are from Hadrian’s reign. None of the hiding complexes yielded coins dating from the Bar Kokhba Revolt (Farhi 2010; 2018; 2020; Farhi and Melamed 2014).
To date, about 350 hiding complexes have been found at about 140 sites in the Judean Shephelah (Kloner and Zissu 2014:61); most have been surveyed and mapped, but not excavated. Many hiding complexes have been identified in the northwestern Shephelah (Kloner and Zissu 2003 and see references therein). Architecturally, the hiding complexes exposed at the site are similar to complexes at other sites in the Judean Shephelah. Scholarly opinion proposed that the hiding complexes were planned and executed at one time, and that they mostly date from the Bar Kokhba Revolt (Kloner and Tepper 1987; Kloner and Zissu 2006 and see references therein). However, the finds from this site indicate that the hiding complexes were in use in the first century CE, specifically at the time of the Great Revolt. Some complexes continued to be used in the first third of the second century CE, specifically until the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It is probable that the hiding complexes were not hewn in preparation for a specific revolt but were part of the Jewish population’s way of daily life over several generations.
Winepress F912 (Fig. 33). A rock-hewn complex winepress contained a square treading floor (L17R13-003) with a square pit (L17R13-245) for anchoring a press; a square settling pit (L17R13-004) connected to the treading floor by a short rock-hewn channel (L17R13-033); a square collecting vat with a sump in its northeastern corner (L17R13-026; depth c. 1.5 m), connected by channels to the pit where the press was anchored and to the settling pit; and eight semicircular compartments
(L17R13-246–253) around three sides of the treading floor, to which they were connected by rock-hewn channels. The entire winepress was paved with mosaic, only parts of which were preserved. The pressing-screw anchor was not found, but a single pillar segment was found discarded inside the collecting vat. Coarse pressing may have been carried out using stone rollers made of pillar segments in secondary use. The settling pit and collecting vat were surrounded by a paved work surface. The compartments around the treading floor were probably intended for storing the first must, which was channeled from upper surfaces that were not preserved.
Four auxiliary compartments preserved around the winepress (L17R13-013,
L17R13-041, L17R13-196, L17R13-255) were made of mortar and their sides and floors were paved with mosaic. All the compartments contained two layers of mosaic paving, attesting to two phases of use. Ayalon (1997:159) and Frankel (1999:139) suggested that such compartments served as containers for additives used to improve the quality of the must. Another interpretation is that the compartments were intended to store the first highest quality must, during the second fermentation period (Avrutis 2015:66).
Near the winepress there was a rectangular installation whose lower part was hewn in the rock and whose upper part was built (F935; 5.5 × 7.5 m, depth 1.8 m; Fig. 34); its sides were lined with stones and plastered, and its floor was paved with mosaic. Plastered steps in the northwestern corner of the installation (L18R13-113) provided access for cleaning and maintenance. There was a settling pit sump (L18R13-084) in the southwestern corner of the installation. The installation’s plastered walls and mosaic paving indicate that it was intended to hold liquids, and its proximity to the winepress suggest that it was related to the wine production.
Winepress F937 (Fig. 35). A mosaic-paved winepress was exposed at the southern fringes of the excavation area; its southern part was probably destroyed by mechanical equipment long before the excavation. The square settling pit
(L18R16-162) and octagonal collecting vat (L18R16-202; depth 1.75 m) were preserved, coated with plaster mixed with potsherds, as was a surrounding work surface (L18R16-082) enclosed by three walls (W18R16-059, W18R16-091, W18R16-186). A rock-cut channel connected the settling pit to the collecting vat. At some stage, the plaster in the settling pit was renewed and the connecting channel was blocked up. The center of the collecting vat contained a sump (L18R16-180). On the edge of the collecting vat, at least four round depressions were connected to the pit by narrow grooves; at some point the depressions were blocked up and covered with a thick plaster layer. Similar depressions were found in the past (Avrutis 2015: Fig. 2.69), and they may have been used to insert beams to cover the vat or to hold containers for must additives during the fermentation process.
Two phases of use were discerned in the winepress. The settling pit and collecting vat were attributed to the earlier phase, as were the rounded depressions on the edge of the collecting vat. At a later stage, the round depressions were covered with a plaster layer, the walls of the pit and vat were re-plastered, and the channel was blocked up.
Based on typology and the pottery, the winepresses date from the Byzantine period and they join 18 previously excavated winepresses, of which 15 have been published (Avrutis 2015; 2019b). The presses shed light on wine production at the site, and in the southern Levant in general. The winepresses belong to three types: simple, improved and complex. Both the winepresses found in the current excavation belong to the complex type, and they join four others of this type previously discovered at the site. Three of the nine Byzantine winepresses found at the site are of the improved type and six are complex presses. Whilst not all the Byzantine-period winepresses operated simultaneously, the large number of presses indicates that the settlement was a wine-production center for the entire region. Furthermore, the fact that at least two of the winepresses continued to be used into the mid-eighth century CE shows that wine production did not cease immediately after the Muslim conquest.